by Reginald Rose
Directed by Frank Galati
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Florida State U. Center for the Performing Arts' Mertz Theatre
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000
January 14 to March 26, '11 in repertory

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

At last, a dramatic play, production, and performances come together to make a perfect theatrical experience. On a hot 1950s summer day, a panel of twelve average voters in a cramped NYC jury room must decide, but not whom to elect. These strangers to each other, as well as an accused boy of 16, must acquit or convict him of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. A conclusion requires weighing evidence that justifies or refutes his presumed innocence. Anxious to resume their normal lives and seeming to have made up their minds, almost all vote guilty at first.  Juror #8 holds out for---and gets---more deliberation. Thus does anger surface or enter into play among the men, as they reveal themselves. Whether they act as  protagonists, antagonists, or both, their varied ages, backgrounds, personalities, beliefs affect their arguments.
From the start, #3 (powerful James Clarke) seethes as an aggrieved father, the most antagonistic juror toward both his fellows and the accused. Despite, maybe because of his self-righteous, superior attitude, Doug Jones' prejudiced #10 quickly bonds with #3. As the deliberative, uncertain #8, Jud Williford shows the man's courage, expressing only righteous anger when he feels possible undermining of the jurors' purpose. That he soon engages the cooperation of oldest jury member, #9 (the always wonderful David S. Howard) seems only natural. Another veteran Asolo Rep actor, John Sterling Arnold, has (happily for audiences) come out of retirement to play a naturalized American citizen from Germany. He keys beautifully into #11's insistent reminding that a glory of America is being able to speak what is unpopular without fear, though (as Arnold does) with civility. Representing a staunch voice of reasoning based on observable facts only, David Breitbarth embodies a no-nonsense if somewhat stuffy #4. An advertising man, #12 keeps swaying in his opinions. Steve Garland makes it clear he's really interested in going with whatever will get him back to his social activities and work.
Among the younger jurors, #2 is the least self-assured. It's a bright moment when Adam S. Carpenter brings him to the ability to voice a conclusion.  Danny Jones plays the exact opposite, a jaunty show-off #7. He never wanted to be on jury duty in the first place, and now he just wants to get to a sports event that evening. How callous can he get? (Jones shows how.) As the nearest in age to the accused and from a similar neighborhood, Ron Kagan's authentic #5 brings a valuable perspective on important details regarding the crime. Also interesting to follow are reactions of Dane Dandridge's #6, a laborer with a young family and no axes to grind. He forms opinions of the jurors and the accused through careful listening, then acts with reason, including voicing an annoyance, toward them. Portraying an "ordinary" guy isn't as easy as Dandridge makes it look. Don Walker effectively conveys this same sense of normality as #1, the foreman who strives to follow the rules, give everyone a say, and keep order. Like the fan he manages to turn on, #1 can be relied on to bring recovery from heat, even if he himself sometimes feels it.
Considering the racial prejudices revealed in the jury deliberations, a good touch in casting is having Will Little, an African American, as the Guard. Director Frank Galati weaves every actor into Reginald Rose's tapestry of characters. Both "do justice" to the universality of that same-named theme. The technical staff succeed admirably in reproducing a mid-20th century setting with its varied shades of brown (on walls, floor, furniture), lit from above in tones like the heat, with threatening storm outside dimming (perhaps a tad soon) what normal light the windows might add. An unused radiator is as good a period definer as the cloth towel on roller next to the tiny bathroom sink.  So are the men's neat clothes and hair styles.
Verdict: a riveting 2 hrs., 45 mins. (with a 15 min. intermission). Sarah Gleissner is Stage Manager

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